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Why Google Chat won’t fix messaging

Exclusive: Chat is Google’s next big fix for Android’s messaging mess

The fact that they’re looking to fix Android’s messaging mess and not everyone’s messaging mess is why this will probably fail yet again.

Real-time messaging (be it SMS or real-time chat) is an absolute cluster, not for lack of innovation, for an inability to reconcile the needs of the users over each company’s own goals, resulting in some very draconian restrictions.

I’ve been using GChat/Hangouts for well over a decade, in daily conversations with my wife and family.  We have a basic set of needs:

  1. Enabled for real-time chat
  2. Ability to receive and respond to notifications across both desktop and mobile phone
  3. Group chat capability
  4. Ability to share pictures and other media
  5. Have a large user base and a lower barrier to entry for new users

Hangouts has been solid but also is neglected by Google.  Now their latest focus is to shift Hangouts for Enterprise use and deprecate it for consumers.  Supposedly they were steering everyone to using Allo, and I remember being very excited its pending release – and then it came and underwhelmed.  What made Allo fail out the gate was the fact that it was tied to your phone number and only one device, so you couldn’t use it from a tablet, let alone a desktop.  Over a year later Google came up with this jenky workaround to have your phone forward chat notifications to a desktop, but worked unreliably and required you to have the app open on your phone.  Given they hampered a key feature of Hangouts, it all but wrote it’s failed destiny and is why it hasn’t been adopted.

I don’t see much difference with Chat. From the article, it seems to be driven by whether carriers will pick up the protocol. That’s well and good to get Android the same features that iMessage enjoys on iPhones, but does little for anyone else on the desktop or using an iOS device. By limiting their goals, Google will once again doom themselves to failure.

I’ve looked a lot of other messaging tools, but each one has its own set of problems. iMessage is designed to promote the sale of Apple devices, which is why you won’t ever see a Windows or Android client (removing #2 and #5). Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp are all great apps with a lot of functionality but don’t have a big userbase and it’s hard to compel people to switch (with the caveat that WhatsApp is big for my international friends).  Facebook Messanger comes closest in terms of offering all the features, but feels really slimy and intrusive to use – and yes, I know that Google reaps the same benefits from inputting my personal information, but you’ve seen a lot more callous coming from Facebook lately.  Skype has been pivoting more into the messaging space, but they’ve had a bad spam problem and I’m not convinced people’s Skype contacts reflects all of their everyday chat contacts. The only time I go to Skype is to make a video call.

If Hangouts vanished overnight, I think I’d reluctantly migrate most of my activity to FB Messager.  It’s frustrating that Google is one few companies that has the clout and wherewithol to tackle this problem, but they’re hampered by their own blinders.  Until then we’re just confined to the ticking clock of neglected consumer Hangouts.

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New Gigposter: Stuff A Truck Benefit Concert

We have a really exciting gig coming up with Amy and the Peace Pipes on Friday, where we’ll be playing with Aires Attic and South to Cedars to benefit Homeless Gear.  Members from the three bands has been doing a lot of work towards things, getting some generous businesses to donate really cool prizes that we’ll be giving away.  I got a chance to design some artwork for it, I do have to confess that I did borrow from a previous design that I put together 8 years ago – but I figured the Statute of Limitations for my artwork expired and I could make it useful again.

20161118-HomelessGearBenefit

One of the biggest challenges was the use of all of the logos for the sponsors. Everyone’s managed to come in different shapes, sizes and colors.  I also found it difficult to striking the balance to providing the logos enough prominence without detracting too much from the other information I was trying to convey.

I also played around a lot with the new Facebook banner design, coming up with this guy:

20161118-HomelessGearBenefit-FB

The gap in the middle was allocated to give space for the event title and date that Facebook imposes. People who would click onto the cover art would see the full “donate items” text, but I wanted to put the most striking content above the fold. Here’s what it looks like over on Facebook:

StuffATruckFB

I played around with the art some more, making a 1×1 image for our Twitter and Instragram profile pictures:

20161118-HomelessGearBenefit-1x1

I’d definitely welcome any thoughts or input!

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Decennial Blogiverasry–10 Years Later, Why I (Don’t) Blog

May 9, 2005: Early Monday morning I ventured onto Xanga to be one of the cool kids and start my own blog.  While I wrote the majority of my inaugural post on May 8, it hit the interwebs on at 22 minutes past midnight on the 9th.  Today I am ten years and (only) 770 posts later into my blog, still (somewhat) posting.

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Bethany and I back in 2005

It’s a bit surreal to go back and read some of my initial posts, being younger and more naïve about who would actually take the time to write the posts. I started off using my Xanga as most 20-somethings would: as a personal diary to capture my thoughts and post all of the random stuff that I didn’t think would interest anyone.  I’ve always enjoyed writing, but didn’t have a lot of opportunity do it outside of email.  A couple of years and two platforms later, I started to get some Google Juice into my blog and found that when I complained about things, people in similar situations (or perhaps seeking to solve them) would start to respond.  As small as it was, I realized that I started to have a platform.

However over the years, I’ve dwindled in my posting – something I really regret.  Despite multiple attempts to jump-start my blogging cadence, my posting rate sputters out and this blog lies dormant for months on end.  What once started with daily posts turned into goals of posting a few times per week, then at least once a month, with months passing in between posts.  I’m not sure how many people use RSS or blog subscriptions to keep tabs on my blog, but I apologize to those of you that do. I’m sure that you’ve wondered multiple times if my blogging days are over.

The truth is that I still love blogging, still have a lot to share (actually probably more than I did ten years ago), but there are many reasons why blogging has gotten away from me:

The “Time” Factor

Let’s start with the premise: blogging takes a lot of time.  When I’m going strong in my posts, I find that I need to carve out at least a half hour to formulate my thoughts and get things posted.  While I write I start to refine my thoughts, go through revisions and typically won’t hit “publish” until an hour after I started writing.  A decade ago (it’s crazy writing those words), I was able to sacrifice sleep in the name of blogging, but now due to age and commitments, that’s not a sacrifice I’m able to make.  As most parents can attest, once you have kids you’re pretty much tired all the time, looking forward to any rest you can get.  Blogging would often take a back seat.

Work Demands Most of Me

Luckily in the course of ten years, I’ve been fortunate enough to make advancements in my career. Of course that means more responsibility, with an obligation to meet those responsibilities.  While I used to be very successful in compartmentalizing my work and home computer time, I’ve been pretty terrible at doing that lately.  If I do find myself with laptop time on my hands, I usually end up triaging work emails and trying to catch up on loose ends.  This is definitely a good thing, I never would want to be stagnant in my job and I do appreciate the opportunities that I have – it’s just that blogging now goes down another rung in the latter.

Families Are Important

God Bless Bethany, who is always really supportive of my crazy activities. She’s been a saint about being patient and understanding of the nights I’m away from home with my various music projects, volunteer efforts and family and friend commitments.  Nonetheless, I try my hardest to be a good husband and father and give as much time as I can to my deserving family.  The Xbox has now become a video-streaming machine, having last played a game back in 2014.  In the midst of our busy lives with work and other obligations, we take any opportunity we have to spend time as a family and cherish Clara’s childhood.  Being present to your family does take a lot of work, and once again, blogging (rightfully) takes a back seat.

I’m worried what other people will think

There’ve been points in my posts where I’ve shared some very personal and raw reflections on my experiences. In a lot of ways, those are my best posts.  However thanks to Google, Facebook and other social media outlets, my blog has been easier to find and associate it with me.  This gets into my head and causes me to fret about who may stumble onto these posts and what they’ll think.  I’ve always been good about avoid stupid mistakes (in naming names or disparaging situations and people that could result in severe consequences), but oftentimes I to too far in my worry about how posts will be perceived by people who are least likely to read my blog.

I’m too busy doing cool things to write about them

This goes back to the “time” argument, but as I was thinking about this post, I do think I have a lot more cool stuff going on in my life than I did a decade ago, and because of the limited time I just not make the time to share it. This does frustrate me, as I do think there’s a fine balance between living in the moment and not preserving any memories. One of my favorI ite times to blog is when I’m visiting exotic places and having some cool experiences.  I do have a list of blog topics where I want to share some of these things, but next thing you know they’ve occurred six months ago and no longer seem relevant.  Part of me needs to accept that I don’t need to write long essays about each experience, maybe less words will accomplish the same goal – which brings me to the biggest detriment in my blogging career.

Twitter

I jumped onto Twitter pretty early on, back in 2007. For me, Twitter always made sense and it’s still one of the most valuable communication platforms that I use today.  Moreover, Twitter does allow me to express my immediate and raw thoughts, in an easy method that doesn’t require the commitment of a revised essay.  Do I have an opinion about what’s going on?  Can I express it in 2-3 sentences? Can I do it from my phone? Done. 

Did I get to express my full views on the issue? Probably not, but I got the gist of it out, and if I do have more to add I’ll just post another Twitter post.  Whether platforms like Twitter have propagated the “bite-sized communication” movement – for better or for worse – we live in that society today.  The fulfillment I get from self-expression is often satisfied from using Twitter.  If you’re looking for the most accurate and unapologetic depiction of my view of the world, follow me on Twitter.

The problem is that my poor blog has suffered.  There have been times where I’ve tried to port some Twitter posts to my blog, but the two platforms make as much sense as dogs and cats living together.

So thank you for joining in my Blogiversary.  Please accept my apologies and explanation as to why this is not a more significant event, because let’s face it: averaging one post every 21 days isn’t that impressive. However please accept yet another commitment that I’ll keep checking in with my blog when I can and share some cool things that happen to me and my family. Thanks for joining me on this ride, here’s to another 10!

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Facebook: crappily copying yet again

For Facebook’s 10th birthday, it looks like they decided to give everyone a gift of a little gift and make a little video montage of your Facebook moments. Just like anything on Facebook, it’s going viral and my news feed is littered with all of these videos.  This is a cute little idea, except for one problem: it’s not theirs. Google came up with the “let’s convert everyone’s pictures into a video montage” last month. To make matters worse, not only did Facebook copy the idea, but their video is lame and limited.  All the video does it tell you when you joined Facebook, show off some random pictures and then displays your “top liked” status updates and pictures. It ends with a montage wall of some of your random pictures.

I wish I could show it to you, but Facebook won’t let you post it outside of their walled garden.  Luckily, Google + allowed me to download my video and post it back to YouTube:

I realize that neither company came up with the concept of making a video montage out of photos, but if Facebook is going to be the second one to implement it on a wide scale, they could at least match the creativity in what they’re copying.  Some of this may be that I’ve been a lot more deliberate in the photos that I’ve posted to Facebook.  Before Clara was born, I hardly posted anything to Facebook – so they may have had slimmer pickings.  However Facebook’s lack of quality photos is due to the fact that they’ve given me less reason to trust them with my photos.  Over the years Facebook has been so convoluted in their privacy controls that I’ve been extremely hesitant to post anything.  Google, on the other hand has at least given me the impression that I have control over my own privacy.  When they implemented their auto-backup of photos, those photos were private by default. While I know both companies profit off collecting my information, the value proposition offered by Google has been greater.

Part of me wonders if Facebook intentionally did not make the videos better. People have become a lot more leery of the information they’ve provided to Facebook.  For me, Facebook knows when I started my job, when I got married, when my daughter was born.  Maybe if they included more specific details, it would have the reverse viral effect and people would have the hell freaked out of them.  Perhaps they didn’t want to tip their hand on the data they’ve been storing.

I’m not some Google+ apologist. The truth is that their social network doesn’t really have any scale, thus they don’t offer much to me. The thing that bothers me the most however is that people on Facebook are acting like Facebook has delivered a great original idea, when they don’t realize that they’re getting a sub-par copy of another’s innovation. This is just the latest idea that Facebook has stolen from someone else and have used their scale to make this appear like some great breakthrough – just like they did with hash-tags, @-mentions, and trending topics.

Facebook, if you’re going to steal, do a better job.

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Friday Tech Roundup, June 21

I’m going to try something new here, and do a little recap of tech news, developments and my take on various tech news stories for the week.

Facebook announces video for Instagram

Normally I detest Facebook’s propensity to blatantly copy features from their competitors, but in the case of of InstaVine and in the interests of having a good video sharing product on Android: good on them!   I may hold a lot of unfair hostility towards Vine, but I can’t get past the terrible first impression they made upon Android users. If you’re going to make users wait for months later than your iOS users, you better make a pretty good first impression – but between the very limited functionality (like not being able to search), the problems with capturing and playing video (audio out of synch) and the lack of worthwhile options (like muting your videos by default): all you did was give me all the more incentive to look forward to something else.

If Twitter seems unwilling or unable to quickly improve their app, I’m more than happy to spend time with an app that can.  Instagram is giving me most of what I’m looking for, with a bigger user base. I’m more than happy to put my video eggs in that basket.  That said, I hope this is a wake up call for Vine and Twitter, as great products come from competition.

 

Feedly updated with Cloud sync and app support ahead of Google Reader shutdown

When Google announced they were shuttering Reader, I remember freaking out as I drove home.  In terms of getting my information: Reader was where I got the majority of my news.  Given that I consume it on multiple computers, my phone and tablet, I was concerned about how I was going to be able to sync my feeds.  I began my quest looking for the replacement, and am happy to be living in the Feedly space.  They’ve really stepped up and have done a great job welcoming Google Reader refugees, and have been very open about their roadmap and where they want their product to go.  They don’t deliver the exact same functionality of Reader (yet), but they are a great alternative that will soon get there.  I previously thought I was going to be counting down the days until Reader was shutdown, but I’ve been so happy with Feedly that I’ve all but forgotten.

 

Falcon Pro removed from Google Play Store

I don’t use Falcon Pro (I’m more of a Twicca man), but this news is distressing nonetheless.  The way Twitter has turned the table against the developers – on whose backs they built their service on – irritates me to no end.  While Twitter’s app has greatly improved, it still lacks a ton of features that their advanced users – who also have used Twitter the longest – count on every day.  By relying on these apps early on, people like me learned how to use Twitter reading from oldest-to-newest, and have come to rely on Twicca for this continued experience.  This back & forth between developers and their apps need to stop. Just be satisfied that 80% of your mobile users are using your app, you don’t want to piss off the other 20% with stupid stuff like this.

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